'Captain of the ship': How President Zelenskyy has gained global recognition as a wartime leader

President Zelenskyy addresses the US Congress Credit: PA

Words by Lois Swinnerton

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned to the international political stage on Tuesday, addressing the Italian Parliament in a bid to rally more support for his country, as Russian forces continue their relentless attack.

The President gave yet another show of defiance as he spoke via video call to politicians in Rome.

He was greeted with a standing ovation by Italian MPs and senators both before and after his speech, where he called for more sanctions and more pressure on Russia.

It comes as he prepares to greet Japanese politicians over video call on Wednesday.

Through these political addresses, interviews and social media videos posted from various hidden locations in Ukraine, he has no doubt solidified himself as a symbol of hope for his country. We take a look at how he has navigated the war so far.

  • The outbreak of war

Just over three years ago, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a TV comedian and actor. In 2019 he made his move into politics, winning a landslide victory as he was elected as the President of Ukraine in April of the same year. Now he is standing on the front line of Russia's war on his country.

Zelenskyy delivers address in Kyiv Credit: PA Images

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, and almost overnight, President Zelenskyy was thrust onto the global stage.

But speaking to ITV News, Dr Olga Onuch, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester, comments: "It's not the first time the world has woken up to Zelenskyy, but perhaps it's the first time they are seeing him for who he is."

Dr Olga Onuch has studied Zelenskyy extensively over the past four years, including the campaign leading up his presidency, and his time in office.

She explains: "The West is seeing him through a different lens, or the first time seeing him as an equal."

Adding: "The West has to listen to him now...he was right all along about warning of Russian invasion. It’s these moments of both awe and horror in what he was saying to them was correct."

Zelenskyy meet with State Emergency Rescuers in Kyiv Credit: PA Images

He has portrayed himself to be a defiant leader. From the outset he has refused to leave his country, despite offers of safety.

Dr Onuch comments: "There is nothing more inspiring than watching someone do things that are braver than you would ever dream of doing or would do."

She adds: "I think watching him, we would know our own limits, that we would flee, we would not stay and fight.

"I doubt that he’s not afraid, I doubt any human being would not be afraid. Even in the face of threat and fear, he often talks about civic duty and duty of ordinary citizens to do the right thing."

Dr Colin Alexander describes his green attire as a 'militarised tweek' to his leadership Credit: AP

Dr Colin Alexander is a Senior Lecturer in Political Communications at Nottingham Trent University.

In an interview with ITV News, he described Zelenskyy as the "captain of the ship," explaining how his decision to stay in the country was an incredibly important one.

He said: "I think if Zelenskyy was to go into exile, or to move and try to retain credibility, even if he moved to neighbouring Warsaw, or somewhere like that, which was perhaps a bit safer…the implications of that would have been quite grave, particularly on the morale of the Ukrainian people.”

  • War orator in a digital age

Many may argue President Zelenskyy is narrating his way into the history books. Throughout the conflict so far, he has made it clear he's not running and has used the power of social media as a way of standing up for his country and condemning Russia's actions.

In one of his most recent videos, we can see the the power of language and imagery coming together to further solidify his determination to stand by Ukraine, ending the video with: "Yes Ukraine was beautiful, but now it will become great".

Dr Onuch explains Zelenskyy has "innate understanding of how to communicate," she explains: "He's not doing something new, he has frequently made use of modern technology, social media as a tactic of communication and understands the power of a personal speech and humanity he can convey in those messages.

"Be it in the videos he posts or in direct speeches to politicians...they are very earnest"

Just a few days after Russia began its attack, he shared this video post of him walking the streets of his capital city, vowing to defend Kyiv.

Dr Alexander described his social media pieces to camera as a "communication masterclass," saying they emphasise Zelenskyy's "personal integrity".

He explained: "Ultimately he understands that Ukraine has to tow quite a fine line here and social media works really well for this and the way in which Zelenskyy pitches himself works well."

Adding: "Zeleneskyy must appear calm, confident, assured".

Aside from his countless social media posts, he has been seen to make time for his people; regularly addressing the nation with official updates from various secret locations in Ukraine.

On March 17, he visited those recovering from injuries at a hospital in the country's capital, Kyiv, while also meeting with rescue workers from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

Zelebskyy visits Tetiana Vlasenko as she recovers from shrapnel wounds in a hospital in Kyiv. Credit: PA Images

  • Addressing politicians around the world

President Zelenskyy has stamped his presence on the global political stage. From the UK, to the USA, Canada and Italy, he has taken his country's fight to world, in an effort to bolster support.

President Zelenskyy addresses the Canadian Parliament Credit: AP

On March 8, he directly addressed MPs in the House of Commons, quoting Shakespeare and drawing comparisons to the threat the UK faced from the Nazis during World War II.

Even before his speech began, he received a standing ovation. He went on to speak of resistance, echoing quotes from Winston Churchill, telling MPs: "We will fight until the end, at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost.

"We will fight in the forest, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets. We will fight on the banks of the rivers and we are looking for your help."

Dr Onuch comments: "When you are delivering that line you have to know what it means and I think that is what people respond to.

"He is able to make historical references that are powerful in a way that we understand their underlying meaning."

Watch Zelenskyy's House of Commons speech in full here:

Following in the former British Prime Minister's footsteps once again, Zelenskyy made an historic address to the US Congress. Winston Churchill's in person address came in 1941, during World War II.

In his speech, Zelenskyy thanked the USA for its support so far, and made historical reference to historical events the country had bared witness to, remembering Pearl Harbour and the 9/11 terror attacks.

President Zelenskyy addressing US Congress Credit: AP

As he prepares to speak to East Asian politicians in Japan on Wednesday, Dr Alexander observes that Zelenskyy's act in addressing Parliaments around the world, is "further isolating the enemy".

He said: "This is about a global battle for hearts and minds.

"You have to go to where power is in these countries around the world. And in getting the ear of politicians and lawmakers in all continents around the world, you by default further isolate your enemy.

"And Russia and Vladimir Putin have no such platform now.”

Concluding, Dr Onuch explains: "Are our politicians equally skilled at listening, reacting and understanding what he tells us, and do what is necessary in this context?"

"It's almost like he is presenting the biggest test that our politicians will ever face."

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